Wisconsin faces undefeated Western Michigan in the Cotton Bowl. Here are some storylines and predictions for the Badgers heading into their matchup with the Broncos.
No one would blame you for thinking prior to the season that Wisconsin would wind up with a mediocre record after taking one glance at its schedule. But coach Paul Chryst did a fantastic job keeping the Badgers focused, and here they are with a 10-3 mark preparing for a major bowl game.
Wisconsin used the program’s methodical, grind-it-out offensive scheme while relying on its defense to win games. But its going to get a tough test from an explosive Western Michigan offense that boasts the FBS’ all-time leading receiver.
Here are five storylines and predictions for the Badgers heading into their Cotton Bowl matchup with the Broncos.
T.J. Edwards originally committed to Western Michigan
Edwards wasn’t highly recruited out of high school in suburban Chicago, and even played quarterback for a team that didn’t have much talent. That confused college coaches who couldn’t figure out which position he’d play. Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck noticed Edwards was special and became the first to offer Edwards a scholarship with the intention of putting him at tight end or linebacker.
Before his senior season, Edwards committed to Fleck and Broncos, who were coming off a 1-11 campaign in Fleck’s first season in Kalamazoo. Edwards even came across a picture of him dressed in Western Michigan gear that since has been circulated among his teammates.
When Wisconsin noticed Edwards during his senior year and offered him a scholarship, he couldn’t pass it up. He called Fleck – who wasn’t happy – and had to break the news. Now the redshirt sophomore and Badgers leading tackler will have to go head-to-head against the coach he spurned just a few years ago.
That schedule, though
Western Michigan will be the seventh ranked team that Wisconsin has faced this season, but don’t expect it to be intimidated by the Broncos’ No. 12 rank in the AP Top 25.
Each of the Badgers’ first six such foes where ranked in the top 10 at the time. They beat then-No. 5 LSU to open the season, then-No. 8 Michigan State to open Big Ten play and knocked off then-No. 7 Nebraska on Oct. 29. But losses to Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State in the conference championship game cost Wisconsin a shot at the College Football Playoff.
The Broncos don’t give, but the Badgers must take
Western Michigan committed seven turnovers all season, the fewest in FBS for a plus-19 turnover margin that ranked second in the nation. Wisconsin tied for seventh at plus-11.
The Badgers’ high mark mainly is because of their 21 interceptions that tied for the third-most in the country. Broncos quarterback Zach Terrell tossed only three picks, though, and his 70.8 completion percentage is among the best in the country. He also has the luxury of throwing to Corey Davis, who is the FBS’ career leader in receiving yards with 5,212 and has caught a MAC-record 51 touchdown passes.
Wisconsin will need to force the Broncos into some mistakes in order to slow down their attack and prevent what happened in the Big Ten championship game, when Penn State’s Trace McSorley threw for 384 yards and four touchdowns in the Nittany Lions’ 38-31 win.
Are two QBs better than one?
Chryst went with a two-quarterback system beginning with the Oct. 22 game against Iowa, and the Badgers won six in a row with Alex Hornibrook and Bart Houston both seeing time under center. But Hornibrook sat out the Big Ten title game due to a concussion, and Houston failed to throw a touchdown pass in the defeat.
Hornibrook has been cleared to play in the Cotton Bowl and again is expected to share time with Houston. Chryst says he hasn’t yet decided which quarterback will start, though.
Corey Clement will run for at least 100 yards
Clement’s 1,304 yards led the Big Ten and he also added 14 touchdowns. He’s gone over the 100-yard mark in five straight games. Western Michigan allowed 4.71 yards per carry to rank ninth in the 12-team MAC in that category, so expect Clement to get the ball early and often on his way to another big game.